srijeda, 5. prosinca 2012.

Harry Dodge & Stanya Kahn - From Where I'm Sitting (I can only reach your ass)

Izbace te iz pakla jer imaš samo jedno mudo. Izbace te iz pakla i nemaš muda, kamo sada možeš ići, kvragu, nemaš jaja i izbačen si iz pakla, što je slijedeće? Fak.
Eliptični, apsurdistički performans-video. Strava i žudnja u Los Americi.

Can't Swallow It, Can't Spit It Out (2006) [na UbuWebu]

2006, 26:05 min, color, sound
Roberta Smith writes in The New York Times, "Ms. Kahn is seen with a bloodied nose, a viking helmet and a large wedge of rubber Swiss cheese, rambling around Los Angeles, talking to the camera, Ms. Dodge and us. The one-sided conversation turns variously competitive ('You should have been there for that'), testy ('This was mostly your idea') and weird, as in a bit that begins, 'When I was in hell...'
Jeffrey Kastener writes, "What at first might seem like random decisions in the works—unorthodox choices for location, wardrobe, and editing—are carefully poised to produce scenarios that flirt with slapstick without diluting their characters' basic humanity. This balancing act is particularly vivid in the pair's Can't Swallow It, which charts the relationship that develops between that logorrheic Valkyrie and her voyeur-cum-documentarian as the two move from confrontation to empathy during the course of an off-kilter dérive through Los Angeles. Wandering a largely depopulated city, the woman regales her newfound companion with tales that run from personal reminiscences to insane ramblings."

The Ugly Truth (2006)
[na UbuWebu]

The collaboration of Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn has produced an exciting series of character-driven videos whose protagonists are, above all, under pressure: economic pressure, ecological pressure, and the pressures of class and gender (and, for that matter, genre) regimes. These pressures catalyze affective mutations and a sense of dislocation, a felling of (not so transcendental) homelessness.
Responding to eco-social circumstances, Dodge and Kahn work from the ethoi that the personal is political and the aesthetic is ideological. In their work, then, the aesthetic -- including, crucially, the anaesthetic, and the anti-aesthetic is leveraged politically. These videos draw attention to the aesthetic itself as a fraught category, using the heightened consciousness created by the frame only to crash it, transmitting/effecting cognitive-cosmic dissonance via their signature punk-slapstick.
(From: Dissociated/Dislocated: Thoughts on the short videos of Stanya Kahn and Harriet Dodge. Philips, Glenn (editor), California Video: Artists and Histories, Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2008.)

Winner (2002) [na UbuWebu]

2002, 15:43 min, color, sound
Winner is a fictional interview gone awry, featuring a reticent sweepstakes winner who doggedly avoids receiving her prize and manages to morph an ad spot into a mini documentary about her art work.
Shot in a day and largely improvised, Winner is the first collaborative video by Dodge and Kahn. Featuring Kahn as "Lois," an attention-starved Angeleno, and Dodge as the cameraman who indulges her, Winner established a formative role-playing between them: a symbiotic relationship between camera and subject, indigenous to the world's entertainment capital. In Winner, Lois gets her fifteen minutes in the spotlight when she wins a cruise through a radio call-in show. The sponsoring station deploys a cameraman, "Peter," to record a clip of her thanking them for the prize, but Lois is more intent on showing him her sculptures, on display in the trunk of her car. They look like assemblages of flotsam, clumsily held together with duct tape. Peter initially tries to steer Lois back to the task at hand, but her desperation to have an audience—any audience—is so achingly palpable that he doesn't have the heart to shut her out. He drifts with her into a nearby park, where Lois begins to talk of future film collaborations, and divulges a project in development, an adaptation of Michael Jackson's Thriller music video, with wind and bird sounds layered over it. More than a parody of a L.A. wannabe, Lois is a complex character, as dangerously zealous and needy as Robert De Niro's Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy.

  Let the Good Times Roll (2004) [na UbuWebu]

2004, 15:43 min, color, sound
Based on a live performance by Stanya Kahn, Let the Good Times Roll shuffles time and location as two loners meet in the desert on their way to a rock show. Stories of seasonal depression and finding unexpected exuberance emerge in suspended, Waiting for Godot-like circumstances.
Writes Rachel Kushner in Artforum, "In Let The Good Times Roll, a depressive, effusive woman named Lois [Kahn] sits in a motel room telling an unseen cameraman about a party she once attended...If comedy in contemporary art seldom appears without qualifiers like deadpan, concrete or conceptual, Dodge and Kahn's shared comic sensibility belongs to its own idiosyncratic genre, closer in tone and caliber to the artists' cited influences (Richard Pryor, Lily Tomlin and Lenny Bruce) than to the art world's site gag or idea-based sorts of humor." On the other hand, writes Kushner, "art audiences uniquely and all too painfully relate to Lois' various episodes of alienation, her hyperanalytic attempts to decipher cultural absurdities, and her brave, pathetic optimism in the face of failure."

  Whacker (2005) [na UbuWebu]

2005, 6:25 min, color, sound
Under a cloudless Los Angeles sky, Kahn—dressed in incongruous heels and a summery dress—runs an electric weed whacker through a hill of overgrown grass. During breaks, the whacker's annoying buzz gives way to the trill of birds and distant sirens, with Elvis Presley's In the Ghetto leaking from a passing car or a radio somewhere. Whacker conjures a tangible L.A. landscape, representing its distinctive mix of desultory glamour and urban hustle, cohabitating in the desert air. Kahn portrays a uniquely L.A. character: sporting Travis Bickle-style aviator sunglasses and chomping a wad of gum, she is disarmingly dedicated to her nonsensical task. According to Dodge, "It's about the feral - the persistence of the weeds, the wild grass that insists on growing," to which Kahn adds..."and a woman who is as tenacious as the weeds."
Writing in The New York Times, Jori Finkel observes, "Whacker falls somewhere between punk performance and theater of the absurd..."

  Masters of None (2006) [na UbuWebu]

2006, 11:55 min, color, sound
At first glance, Masters of None could be the home video of a family of neon-pink hooded figures, passing the time with charades, television, and Jiffy Pop on the stove. As in All Together Now, Masters has no dialogue or clear narrative arc, and while the domestic activities seem everyday, they are infused with suggestions of violence and danger. As the video progresses, it becomes more densely layered with disturbing television images: sporting accidents, snake fights and hard-core porn. The Jiffy Pop catches fire. The game of charades results in the death of one of the characters, who is buried in the backyard. The overarching soundtrack of distorted and unidentifiable sounds rises to a fever pitch as the figures devour snacks messily through their shrouds, captivated by whatever is on TV. Masters could also be a fable about the proximity of violence and absurdity under the Bush Administration.

Nature Demo

2008, 9:19 min, color, sound
As densely populated as it is, there are many incursions of nature into the urban bustle of Los Angeles: overgrown yards, vine-blanketed retaining walls, slivers of forest between neighborhoods. In Nature Demo, Dodge and Kahn explore the flora and fauna of the Los Angeles River, which flows in a concrete channel through the city. They attempt to build a shelter and scavenge for food, questioning their ability to survive alone in this urban wilderness—though the ruse of their isolation is betrayed by the constant noise of traffic flowing over a nearby freeway. Nature Demo was made the same year as the post-apocalyptic All Together Now, and deals with similar themes of survival and sustainability at the edge of civilization.

All Together Now (2008) [na UbuWebu]
2008, 26:52 min, color, sound
Recalling recent urban horror films such as 28 Days Later or Cloverfield, All Together Now is a tale of survival in a devastated but familiar world. Feral tribes are the only inhabitants left in a decimated Los Angeles, sustaining themselves on the debris of an annihilated culture. A sense of fresh disaster is evoked through disturbing details: cars abandoned in the middle of the street, yards strewn with kitten and bird carcasses, and buzzards circling over darkened skyscrapers.
The video opens on Kahn bludgeoning something, or someone, in the bushes. Her prize is a little portable radio, which brings funk and rock 'n' roll into the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Though Kahn wears fashionably torn jeans and a blouse, her hair held back with a butterfly clip, her face is made up to look like a cave woman. This is just one of many anachronisms in All Together Now, which is as playful in its collapsing of genres and archetypes as, say, Roger Corman's Teenage Cave Man.
Kahn scuttles through the abandoned city in socks, foraging for food and water and useful trash. She is part of a clan or family of similar characters—a collective of survivalists who have retained traces of pleasure in their weird world. In one family scene, several characters indulge in a spa while a young boy watches The Beatles' Yellow Submarine on television.
Meanwhile, in a dark warren of bunk beds, another clan of hooded figures, inevitably suggesting Abu Ghraib and the Ku Klux Klan, engage in absurd industry and fitful sex. Some of these figures are hooded in blue, while others are hooded in white and decorated with adhesive-tape eyes and mouths. They fill sacks with soil and dunk them in glop. They destroy furniture with power tools. They keep constant surveillance on the world outside with their laptop.
The relationship between these clans, or the purpose of their activities, is never explained. All Together is completely devoid of dialogue or commentary. There is, however, no apparent conflict; in fact, there are signs of affection—even love. There are several idyllic scenes of the characters frolicking in nature, suggesting that they have found an odd peace with their situation, and with each other.
Writing in Frieze magazine, Christopher Bedford observes that "All Together Now, like much of Dodge and Kahn's work, is not without optimism—moments of co-operation between tribes, for example, instances of human ingenuity or scenes of children smiling and gallivanting—and the temptation to see the cues for a positive reading in these passages is considerable. But to cling to that interpretative thread would be to discount many of the most resonant scenes in the video, the most striking of which occurs near the end. We see Kahn playing on a beach with two impeccably outfitted children when the scene cuts abruptly to a view of the artist standing shirtless and alone in the centre of a lake, scrubbing blood from her bruised and battered body, with no indication given of how one moment gave rise to the next."
By Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn. With performances by: Lucy Blue Brady, Trinie Dalton, Lenny Dodge-Kahn, Cerus Dumas, Sean Dungan, Amy Gerstler, Matt Greene, Stanya Kahn, Eileen Myles, Gail Swanlund, Benjamin Weissman. Additional Camera: Keith Hennessy, Jeff Hockett. Includes sound from: Bardo Pond, The Beatles, Boris, The Clash, David Bowie, The Dead C, Holger Czukay, Rick James, Pelt, Jessye Norman, Kinski, The Rolling Stones, Thrones, Yardbirds.

Harry Dodge & Stanya Kahn

by Michael Smith   BOMB 108/Summer 2009

Still from Whacker, 2005, color video with sound. Total running time: 7 minutes, 7 seconds. All images courtesy of the artists and Elizabeth Dee, New York.
The problem with most time-based work is that it takes time to watch. Years of television did not prepare me for viewing video art. But every so often, I see something that holds my attention and interest. Together, Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn have produced a group of funny, poignant, and sometimes quite disturbing videos that continue to engage me, even after repeated viewings. They are like intimate day-in-the-life portraits of mythical fringe characters wandering through segments of a magazine-format TV show. Both Dodge and Kahn have backgrounds in performance, where they honed their improvisation skills before live audiences. A similar process shapes their videos and imbues them with a charged fragility, not unlike witnessing a vulnerable stand-up comic work the room. In their scenes filled with wall-to-wall talking, it’s not always apparent how much the material has been edited and carefully reworked. But when viewed together with the videos emphasizing sound effects instead of conversation, one senses an incredible amount of time logged, both in the editing room and in their behind-the-scenes partnership, with a lot of back-and-forth, discussion, and lots of silence fueling their rich, layered narratives. I met Harry and Stanya around 2002 at Bard College, when they started making videotapes together. They were partners back then, both earning their MFAs. At the time of our interview in Los Angeles, they were on hiatus, and working on their own projects. I’m pretty sure neither of them was getting ready for the next upcoming sitcom season. While editing this piece I was reminded of characters inhabiting their videos; neurotic people doing pedestrian things like waiting, walking, talking, paying the rent, or videotaping; individuals, alone and together, figuring out how to negotiate their place in the world. —Michael Smith

Michael Smith I have a feeling the community you come from is very different from the art context in which I first saw your work.
Stanya Kahn We met in 1992 in San Francisco, where there isn’t really a big, ubiquitous art machine. People created clubs in basements and there were a lot of fly-by-night spaces. It was a self-sustaining ecosystem of low-rent studio spaces and performance venues. That made it possible to have your main source of information and “training” happen in a community, as opposed to coming out of art school and tracking right into a gallery.
MS When I arrived in New York in the mid-’70s there was an active downtown scene that operated like a vast network. There was public funding and artists opened a variety of small spaces, giving the scene the appearance of a big alternative machine, even though many spaces were lofts and storefronts where people also lived. In the ’80s, there was a shift: venues became more specialized. I floated around, gravitating to where there was support. As funding to individuals dried up, spaces supporting dance and more theatrical work were able to hold on, but raw, process-oriented performance and video suffered.
Harry Dodge I had almost no contact with broader culture except to protest it. The performance space I ran with some others called Red Dora’s Bearded Lady Coffeehouse and Cabaret was opened just as Macy’s was trying to use ACT UP’s SILENCE = DEATH slogan as a way to sell motorcycle jackets. Our goal was to achieve a sense of artistic excellence, whatever we thought that was. It’s not that we just wanted to go out and entertain friends, even though there was a lot of that—Stanya and I share an interest in comedy, so we were drawn to each other’s work and to being in communication with an audience.
SK I would just jump in and add—
MS —You guys are doing very well about not jumping in on each other.
SK I’m really trying! I would add that there was an elaborate network of communities in San Francisco who were pointedly interested in developing a language to talk about being outside systems of legitimization. Some of the people who I learned to do performance and dancing and stuff with were also anarchists. They were running basement printing presses and record labels, being hardcore frontline activists, doing civil disobedience, and all kinds of sabotage. None of those things was disconnected. So the first performances I did were with big groups of people that amounted to protest—illegal occupations of public territory. I was cultivating relationships with people who were actively interested in being in a conversation that opposed what they saw as the establishment. And at that time, in our minds, the art world was absolutely part of the establishment.
MS It wasn’t until the early ’90s—with economic collapse and an incredible amount of AIDS-related death—that activism and identity politics entered the art world. Then the art market put language around it and figured out how to package it. You entered into the art world in the early 2000s, at a time when it was exploding. What were your expectations?
HD What’s your understanding of how it was exploding?
MS Just in terms of money. Was it exploding in terms of ideas? I doubt it. (laughter) I wanted to talk about your community because I know from personal experience how the reward systems are very different in distinct communities. One doesn’t normally differentiate between a performance art world and a video art world, but as long as I can remember neither video nor performance artists made money through art, so they must have been getting some kind of support.
SK For me, live performance transitioned into making video, and I feel like I’m still fully living in both worlds. Moving through time and space across the screen is barely marketable in the art world. The relationships that have been the most significant for me, in the art context, have been with writers and other artists. That’s been awesome. We don’t necessarily experience a heavy market as videomakers—
HD (diabolical laughter)
MS What a shock!
HD The move to video was a surprise, a revelation. I started a feature film right when the words “independent film” were blowing up. I thought I could get money directing and use the money to make more experimental stuff, like Cassavetes. I was not only naïve, I had energy to blow. But that industry is wrong-minded; I felt uninterested in commercial viability and the film industry’s conventions. If I was going to have a good life, I was going to need to find a way to sell the stuff I really wanted to make.
MS I remember when I first started performing and used “avant-garde” as an adjective. I didn’t understand the history and I wrote a ridiculous press release about doing “avant-garde humor.” This critic really took me to task, and my immediate response was, Asshole! Now I have a better understanding of what avant-garde means. He was right.
SK It was a spotty sense of history that made me feel like I needed to diverge from my insular San Francisco network. I moved to New York because I realized that my mode of working was stuck in some black-and-white thinking: there was an outside and an inside and that was that.
MS It’s interesting, then, that you deal with so much ambiguity in your work.
HD Even though both of us were deeply passionate about our community in San Francisco, neither of us created work that was didactic in spirit or form. We shared the desire to twist issues, to address them obliquely, to traffic in gray areas or in-betweeness.
SK Performance in particular was a form in which I felt I could expand past rhetoric. I was doing heavy academics as an undergrad and then filtering all this information through the body into kinetics, images, and language that was freed up from having to adhere to stable references.

Still from All Together Now, 2008, color video with sound. Total running time: 26 minutes, 34 seconds.
HD Here’s a paradox: I felt like in our most recent piece, All Together Now, I gave myself permission to communicate with people who were already interested in art. I wasn’t acting as a liaison to art haters, like I sometimes have.
MS That one had more of a narrative flow that I think people could relate to. They may be baffled or disturbed by the ambiance of the whole thing, but the structure seems relatable.
SK That’s funny, Harry is saying the opposite.
HD You see that piece as more narrative than the others? Maybe it’s our use of some conventional film grammar: shot, countershot, composition, light. As we edited, we wrested ourselves from an obligation to make bridges to audiences that weren’t art audiences. We thought, It doesn’t matter if this is entertaining, if it gets long and dry; this is how we want it to be.
MS I guess what I mean is that one could look at it like a film. There’s a stream-of-consciousness humor in the shorter pieces that All Together Now doesn’t have. When I saw it I could imagine you guys working with a tight storyboard to develop the tone of the piece.
SK That dovetails into a conversation about working with the conventions of language and storytelling. People taking things literally when they’re intended as abstraction is an ongoing challenge for us. I’m curious about how to make things understood the way I meant them to be. The word “character” comes up a lot; like for the Valkyrie in Can’t Swallow It, Can’t Spit It Out. It’s a word that I don’t assign to what I’m doing. I experience it more as a complex of symbols, experiences, and actions.
MS What I really respond to in your videos is place: neutral spaces. Is it home or just some brown interior? There are a couple instances where people are in a motel room or just a totally generic empty space filled up by language, filled up by their personalities. Maybe you don’t assign the word “character” to what you’re doing, but I’m sorry, I see them as characters. Even if they are hooded, quiet, or ranting.
HD That could be a semantic issue. The “characters” first exist as ideas. I’m glad you mentioned location. In Can’t Swallow It, Can’t Spit It Out it was a clear decision to have architectural spaces as functional cues—references, like characters.
SK One of the things that’s been exciting for me is finding ways to put the body in particular spaces to point to a broader set of social meanings. And then to mediate that meaning, performatively. In other words, it’s not just this character standing in front of the dam. It’s citizens next to infrastructure.
MS It’s a complicated organizational problem you guys must come up against, especially with so much improvisation during production. You’ve got these locations and storylines, and you fill them with jokes, sounds, or action. The question becomes how much to leave in during postproduction. Maybe this is a way for me to understand what you mean when you talk about abstraction. In the process of editing out an incredible amount, you leave a trace or hint of something, like a dam representing not only a place, but possibly a policy. I think my favorite tape of yours is Whacker. It just kind of happens: this ambient portrait of a tough, kind of proud woman. Much of what is heard and seen in the background both defines and complicates what is going on in the foreground, not so much who she is but what she is doing and why.
SK Whacker is a good example of asking with a performative scenario whether we can use literal references to create a poetic address of how we experience ourselves in this world. I never want people to just stop their interpretations at what literally happens in a scene.
HD Mike’s work does the same thing. Your props, costumes, sets, even the way you move your face, Mike. It all reads as symbolic or substitutive, like you’re not intending realism or an escapist lapse into narrative entertainment. You’re using all kinds of narrative conventions, but it’s in those resistances and subversions that the message is sent out. I want to keep people on their toes but to also offer little gifts and pleasures—to engage without allowing passivity.
MS Stanya, you were saying you don’t like the idea of character or overt symbolism, and still you’re using a mythic character like a Valkyrie, which allows the viewer to draw connections. Lois, this marginal fuckup in Let the Good Times Roll develops some sort of relationship with Dave, who, by the way, is creepy. (laughter) Him constantly lurking, always controlling the camera, is really unsettling.
SK When I’m rebuffing the word “character” I’m rebuffing the self-distancing process implied by the traditional theatrical reading of that word. I see “character” as a metaphorical space, a state of being for myself.
MS Is there a connection between all the characters? Is it actually one character and sometimes they’re just having a better hair day? (laughter)
SK You could say that they’re one impulse. Maybe not one—they’re a set of recurring impulses. A combination of social anxiety, personal melancholy, and this unending cycle of exuberance and enthusiasm for finding ways out of those things.
HD This is what reminds me of your work, Mike.
MS Yup, you’ll find those conditions and feelings in my work. Can’t seem to get away from it. Maybe now I’ll be able to get more mileage with more of the same, with this recession.
HD It doesn’t seem like a stretch to insist that each thing in a film also functions on a metaphorical level, that there is a text and a subtext. If you’re insisting that there not even be a text, I could buy that, and that might be a weirder proposition. Another thing that occurs to me about the impulse of the personifications is that they have to do with concretizations of exuberance on the margin. A way to wield power without actually having it, to bombard a space with so much truth that power is the result. So while Lois is always saying, “Well, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know,” she’s also keeping the camera on her for hours. That’s power.
MS All of these characters have insightful moments—dignity, too.
SK I’ve been reading Brian Massumi. He’s a contemporary philosopher who’s influenced by post-autonomia Italian anarchism. He describes this idea of being abducted by the moment: instead of trying to capture a moment with knowing and naming and concrete things, allowing yourself to be captured by the moment and to understand it experientially first.
HD We’ve talked about that a great deal—working with the is of a moment, its present tense—how to find it, use it, hop on like a magic carpet.
MS It really goes hand in hand with the idea of improvisation.
SK That’s why what he was saying resonated so much with me. Now capital has gotten into our every moment.
MS That’s my iPhone. (laughter) I don’t know how to use it yet. I’m never sure if I’m getting a phone call, a text, or a low battery warning.
SK That’s what I’m saying. We have these hefty little wafers that come into our personal spaces. Our identities are constructed on where we go online, which products we plug into. It seems like we have no power left because capital has figured out how to move with our every physical potential. But Massumi says individuals can have power by being abducted by the moment and retracking it. Live the language and find a different way out.
HD It’s like a portrait of this force.
SK Spaces that are undetermined and moments inside of power.
MS I want to talk about inside versus outside. In Let the Good Times Roll there’s all this improvisation that goes on between Lois, the camera, and Dave, the camera guy. It was interesting to see how their relationship changes with location. Once they were inside, they established a connection and it felt like we were outside, looking in on them, while also watching Lois through the lens of Dave’s camera. The improvisation in your videos is really great: talking, talking, talking, filling up space, busy, busy, busy. The outside eye records silently.
HD There are also references to surveillance in All Together Now. But, there are also references to a more conventional film eye.
MS I was on the plane coming here viewing your work, and the attendant came by and said, “What are you watching, looks interesting.” To avoid a complicated conversation, I just said, “Video art.” Recently I was on another flight and this guy across the aisle from me was watching a medical operation. I couldn’t believe it—a gory operation, (laughter) something gynecological.
SK Whoa.
MS No flight attendant asked what he was watching. That says something about your work.
SK Yeah, “video art” still doesn’t explain it to people.
MS I happen to come from a generation of artists that was interested in reaching people; people who grew up with the same cultural references as me. In fact, I thought I noticed an Elmer Fudd reference in your work.
SK Really?
MS Yeah, with the horns. You mean you weren’t quoting when the Valkyrie was reading the poem in front of the hospital?
SK No, that’s an actual Viking Valkyrie poem translated from Old Norse, which doesn’t even exist anymore.
HD That shit is ancient.
MS And channeled through Elmer Fudd?
SK That’s a really good reference point. There’s a Looney Tunes episode where Elmer chases Bugs into the city from the country, but there are no cars around, just massive, mammoth buildings. And then they run into the theater, and perform, right? So Bugs puts on the helmet and braids to perform the opera, but there’s no audience except for the pursuing Elmer, who of course becomes completely smitten. I love that it all takes place in an emptied-out city. Here, infrastructure is a ghost of power, leaving the toil of human desire in the foreground. In some ways we’re like Elmer and Bugs, performing and engaging in this space where there’s a question of whether a spectator is there or not. We’re going to show the piece to the people, but during the process they’re not there. So there’s this cycling of energy between us—two people generating language and stories and trying to make meaning.

Stills from Can’t Swallow It, Can’t Spit It Out, 2006, color video with sound. Total running time: 26 minutes, 5 seconds.
HD Can’t Swallow It, Can’t Spit It Out was kind of a personification of a postheroic impotence about artmaking. It was a video question: what’s possible if you’re just hanging around with your video camera? We’re specifically interested in making a character out of the camera eye. We announce the current of camera, its presence in the present.
MS I thought it was great how you’re waiting for something to happen.
SK And the Valkyrie kind of ridicules it: “Oh, you mean like a Rodney King thing?” We’re consciously—if trashily—borrowing from both cinema and video art and trying to make a third space, with the camera always in the frame, so to speak.
MS The Bugs Bunny cartoon space? (laughter)
SK No. Yes! As characters, I relate to them. Daffy Duck was deeply influential to me—the way he was struggling in every frame. Just really hard. Tons of stress right next to total enthusiasm; just full-on power, a willingness to do almost anything. At the same time, he’s close to a nervous breakdown.
HD Technology forms our performances as well. There was a lot of stationary camera at the beginning. Now with the camera in the computer and all these kids and people all over the planet doing performances in their rooms, there’s a different kind of film grammar.

Stills from Can’t Swallow It, Can’t Spit It Out, 2006, color video with sound. Total running time: 26 minutes, 5 seconds.
SK Also in All Together Now we had people holding cameras, viewing themselves and each other. There wasn’t only surveillance but also self-regard. Sometimes I think it didn’t quite do the things we wanted, which were to talk about people’s relationship to technology, whether it’s the little camera in your computer or the way people represent themselves on Facebook and MySpace, with a picture—people almost don’t live without self-representation in image form anymore.
MS By the way, I didn’t mind being manipulated by the scene at the end of All Together Now. I was touched seeing these little kids dressed in white, looking innocent and pure, adding a little sense of hope to the piece.
SK That’s been a criticism of All Together Now. We struggled with its sentimentality while we were cutting it. Those kids are also wearing psychedelic flowered shirts, I just want to add.
MS Very stylish ones.
SK All the characters are stylish. Check out those blue peeps. Check out the foragers in their jeans and purple shirts. Style is part of the strategy to upend something. Style is inherently cynical in some ways, and the willingness to go there is a little cheeky on our parts, in an intentional way. It says we are participating in a certain sign system like fashion and aren’t pretending there’s a way around it. And by doing so, we hopefully keep this distancing effect.
HD One of the choices for understanding All Together Now was as a portrait of an organism. The foragers were supposed to be the lymph, the circulation. And then there were these generators—the builders, the people with the white masks—they were the red blood cells. The blue people were the annihilators, the break-it-downers, the fragmenters. The whole thing can be thought of as a portrait of fecundity.
SK The white people were constantly filtering, like a bacterial fungus or something. So you could tease out this biological metaphor as a super-efficient system. Or you could look at it more literally as a community model, which is interdependent but mutually autonomous. Cells of people interacting, nonhierarchically.
MS This brings us back to talking about collaboration. You’re always presented as a duo, with Stanya in front of the camera and Harry behind it.
SK I’ll tell you, a pressure we’ve had to actively resist is having the focal point be either the performer or the person behind the camera. We’ve really pushed against those ways of delineating.
HD We both perform, direct, write, find moments, unpeel the videos. And so much is done in editing, where we both labor a lot.
MS I had a long history of doing solo work and because of this, became the face of many projects. You must have done a good job making it clear to the people showing the work that you were a team.
HD We came to videomaking mainly through the lens of being performers. We acquired tools like camera skills and editing only when we realized we needed them.
MS Maybe that accounts for your unique eye, especially for place. I came to video through TV, so I think of it as a fixed thing.
SK We’re coming to video not from the spectator looking at a proscenium space, but from the performer needing that space to be fully expanded—so that anything could happen. My own performative practice was steeped in improvisation, and that means if people didn’t think the joke was funny I had to pull something out of my ass that second to shift the energy. That’s what’s so different about television. Performance is a live body experience, and you’re constantly recalibrating yourself to be in a relationship with other psyches in the room. You have to be in multiple states of mind at once: you’re remembering your text, you’re remembering your dance steps, here comes the song, but, uh-oh—those guys look a little stiff in the front row. So let me throw them a little something to get this jiving.
MS We really work from very different places. I think one reason you captured people’s attention so immediately is that there aren’t a lot of good performers in the art context. In general, art audiences are incredibly open to unintentionally sloppy performances, with references and humor so inside that sometimes I feel like I haven’t been invited to the party. You’re really good at what you do and understand that it takes more than an idea to present something before an audience. You’re also incredibly funny.
SK Thanks, Mike. You are, too. A good collaboration has personal chemistry. Every now and then you find a person whom you feel not only understood by, but whom you can also make meaning with. The choices in our videos are specific, at least for me, to the social and chemical relationship we have with each other. Humor especially relies so much on shared understandings, especially jokes steeped in concept and language.
MS In Nature Demo I can feel you trying to till this thing and get it going. I liked it. How about the scenes with you sleeping? I wasn’t sure if you were giving up or attempting to become one with the embankment.
SK That was me being tired and laying on the ground while we figured out the shot.
HD We don’t just shoot life and then edit it, though. It all comes out of a moment reserved for generating performative video. Yeah, we tape a lot but it’s very crafted and prompted and repeated.
SK Or it’s like, I’m hungry, let’s get donuts, but the camera is still running. So, in fact, I ordered donuts, but I was the Valkyrie.
MS Did you eat all those donuts?
SK I was really hungry. And I enjoy donuts.
MS Impressive, lots of icing.
HD Creating an energized moment is one thing, but then you have to somehow take it back to the editing studio and reinvigorate the moment with your editing choices. So the basic chunks of our process come from live performance, but are then filtered to death through this lens.
SK Which is, ironically, the polar opposite of live performance, where everything is real, everything’s authentic. Trying to reinvigorate the flat space of video and the moving picture involves a bunch of artifice in editing . . . adding tons of sounds that were never there. The irony is that we try to recreate the feeling of live performance through massive artifice, sometimes removing all of the naturally recorded sound from the tape and rebuilding the entire thing from fake sound.
HD Twenty layers of sound.
MS Your soundtracks are great.
SK There are birds chirping, there’s a foot moving through dirt, a rock scraping. And time completely changes. Editing creates the timing; if you cut a gesture a second before the hand completes it, it’s more interesting than if you let it flow.
HD At first, when we started using jump-cuts, I thought, We’re really fucking with convention; this is going to be totally disjointed. We wanted to make a smooth monologue, and we did, and no one knew that there were twenty edits in one minute of dialogue. If you do them right, edits disappear. I think that’s really magical.
SK Editing can actually be closer to the way a mind works. People are constantly making millions of edits in their minds, thinking about and looking at multiple things at once.
HD Maybe the edit carves out that space of ambiguity or in-betweeness.
MS I’m a little more elemental and concrete. Speaking of which, I’ve been thinking about brick-wall comedy lately. That lone figure in front of a wall, working the room, looking for one little nibble to play off and develop. Not so different from Lois in an empty space, yammering on and on, looking for her comfort zone as she makes sense of her surroundings. Going to comedy clubs was very important for me before I first started performing, especially in the early ’70s in relation to the performance art scene. On one hand, you had the comedy club, a minimal setting with one lone comic desperately trying to fill it with laughter, and on the other, the white cube filled with gestures, actions, and/or language by artists examining their relationship to the audience and context. I know both of you were very much influenced by certain comedians. Carlin, especially, right? Harry, you seem to share a certain body language; I see a connection.
HD George Carlin is a huge influence. Mine ran from Liza Minnelli to Steve Martin to Gilda Radner.
SK I’m always resisting making the list of the names, only because I always leave people out. Jerry Lewis, Madeline Kahn, Richard Pryor, Gene Wilder, Carol Burnett, the Second City Theatre, the whole first Saturday Night Live cast, Buster Keaton. See, this is why I don’t do the list.
HD I liked Bette Midler a lot—her nose and that she could sing so well. She was smooth on stage, a natural. I wanted to be that way. She was also foul-mouthed, which I still like in a person. It’s important to swear and say ass-licker when you can fit it in.
MS I worked in clubs a lot in the ’80s. Only once did I do an open mic at a comedy club in New York. The late ’70s. It was horrible. I did two minutes of my baby character. As they say in the biz, I was dying when the MC got up and said, “Looks like that baby ate too many paint chips,” and without missing a beat said, “Now put your hands together for the next act!” Ugh. Did you ever perform in comedy clubs?
SK Once, in New York. It was in this little shithole comedy club in the East Village called Mars Bar. I didn’t come from the comedy context of performing. Comedy can be formulaic and I was too weird for it. But some comics did the things that I’m the most interested in as an artmaker, things with language and gesture, the device of the joke, pulling up the corner of the rug and showing the shit underneath.
MS How about you, Harry, did you ever perform standup?
HD I tried a couple of times. It was just insistence and absurdity—it was a no-go.
SK That’s partly why improvisation was so important for me; sitting around and thinking up jokes was such a frustrating process. The funniest things were when I could just respond in the moment.
HD Weirder, bulkier, unexpected humor.
SK Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of comedy records, and the thing that’s blowing my mind is how I can listen to these records—all on vinyl—and just be dying laughing. I can’t even see the guy. It’s the delivery, and it’s so beautiful. People who can pull that off on record, people who can talk—Lenny Bruce, Steve Martin, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Lily Tomlin—I’m so moved by that; I’m really interested in what can happen in audio space.

Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn 

Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn, Masters of None (2006), DVD still
Watching The Ugly Truth (2006), a three-channel video installation that features Stanya Kahn in various green screen environments, snarling and glowering at the camera, head-banging maniacally and contorting her body with admirable endurance to the dulcet tones of the inimitable US rock band Journey, a series of incongruous descriptors springs to mind: hilarious, unguarded, performative, disarming, bracing, endearing, beautiful, analytical, intimate. In isolation none of these words does much to illuminate the video, and in combination one is left staring into the impassive face of interpretative failure. Kahn’s repetition of poses and gestures and the ubiquitous green screens suggest that we are witness to a rehearsal, perhaps for a music video, but the main event never materializes. Instead we are asked to accept Kahn’s process as her product. Fortunately, camera operator and director Harriet ‘Harry’ Dodge is there to provide some reassurance. While offering Kahn direction and deftly recording the action, Dodge comments, often with bemusement and awe, on her collaborator’s improvisational alacrity and on the strange magnetism that attends her sometimes quite feral performances; Kahn’s head-banging, for example, is worthy of vintage Metallica, while her studied snarl belongs to the theatrical Norwegian black metal tradition. Even Dodge, the co-producer of this video, finds herself at a loss for words, resorting instead – and quite understandably – to familiar colloquialisms such as ‘weird’ and ‘fuckin’ funny’.

Dodge may be one of the two artists responsible for The Ugly Truth, but she is also a viewer, and a surrogate ‘I’ – the disembodied voice of our ‘period eye’, as the late, great art historian Michael Baxandall would have it. In studies such as Painting and Experience in 15th-Century Italy (1972) Baxandall was able to show how the related acts of perception and recognition are structured by the precise social circumstances in which viewing takes place. What is seen and understood is, according to this formulation, a matter of familiarity and habit. In recent years, artists such as Olafur Eliasson have gone to great lengths to create other-worldly viewing environments where spectators are supposed to ‘see themselves seeing’; in other words creating unfamiliar situations that systematically deconstruct the act of looking, offering the viewer a fleeting (and flattering) sense of false mastery over the complex, hermetic worlds they behold. Far less heady and polished in their approach, Dodge and Kahn have developed a mode of video-based performance art that caters to a different ‘period eye’ entirely, one informed not by the legacies of Modernism and 1960s’ phenomenology but by the ad hoc, improvisational, behind-the-scenes aesthetic conventions shared by reality television, docudramas and mockumentaries. The basic enticement offered by this eminently familiar mode of address has allowed Dodge and Kahn to explore a wide range of challenging, topical subjects while in the process revealing – even redeeming – popular (some might say compromised) documentary modes.
One of their most ambitious projects to date, All Together Now (2008) is a jerkily shot docudrama that examines the nefarious activities of various opposed contingents of hooded figures whose shared goal seems to be survival in a lawless, post-apocalyptic landscape. Although the narrative – if such a thing exists – is discordant and fractious, the basic thematic preoccupations and gritty documentary aesthetics will be familiar to many from films such as The Blair Witch Project (1999), 28 Days Later (2002) and Cloverfield (2008). All Together Now does not presume to be the avant-garde antidote to these frivolous productions; rather, Dodge and Kahn rely heavily on the viewer’s presumed familiarity with such films – on their ‘period eye’ – to address a range of radically disquieting possibilities in a familiar contemporary language.
The ubiquity of the hood motif throughout is the first and most sinister suggestion that the violent anonymity of extremist terrorist practices and the random abuse of human rights à la Abu Ghraib have become standard operating procedure for all sides in this new world order. The prevailing political myth of good versus evil that provides the basis for the so-called Bush Doctrine is here turned upside down and inside out, with all factions rendered ethically and behaviourally indistinguishable and interchangeable, all equal contributors to their shared chaos. These insurgents and counter-insurgents also share a pathological investment in surveillance, a hot-button topic that embeds Dodge and Kahn’s surreal tabula rasa even more firmly and vitally in the present. Yet, even as these splinter groups cling to the competitive advantage of technology, the video returns again and again to images of dead animals and to looming, watchful birds of prey, suggesting the slow, inevitable return of humanity to a purely primal state or, perhaps, that our dominion over these beasts is soon to be at an end.
Kahn belongs to a hoodless tribe whose composition still resembles the conventional nuclear family. Minus the surveillance apparatus, sinister camouflage and anarchic survivalist character of their hooded counterparts, and living cheek by jowl in a small apartment when they aren’t outside foraging for food, this family is presented as a vulnerable anachronism. All Together Now, like much of Dodge and Kahn’s work, is not without optimism – moments of co-operation between tribes, for example, instances of human ingenuity or scenes of children smiling and gallivanting – and the temptation to see the cues for a positive reading in these passages is considerable. But to cling to that interpretative thread would be to discount many of the most resonant scenes in the video, the most striking of which occurs near the end. We see Kahn playing on a beach with two impeccably outfitted children when the scene cuts abruptly to a view of the artist standing shirtless and alone in the centre of a lake, scrubbing blood from her bruised and battered body, with no indication given of how one moment gave rise to the next. - Christopher Bedford


Unsettling, in a Funny Sort of Way


ONCE the screen went black and the applause died down, the chorus of questions began. “Where did you get all the dead animal footage?” one viewer asked. Another asked, “Those blue people in the basement, what are they called?”
This was not your usual question-and-answer session after a film screening. The video artists Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn had invited friends and collaborators to their home in the Highland Park neighborhood to see the final cut of their new work, “All Together Now,” which makes its official debut on March 17 in New York.
In the past they have hung a large muslin sheet in their backyard for such screenings. This time, because of rainy weather, these artists decided to take the show inside Ms. Kahn’s studio, a former garage behind the house.
What they screened might be described as their most ambitious work to date, a 26-minute piece that took the better part of nine months to complete. It is also their most disturbing work, dispensing with dialogue and taking place in a burnt-out, post-urban version of Los Angeles.
It opens with Ms. Kahn, face bloodied and hair wild, bludgeoning something in a bush. The “blue people” who soon appear (wearing blue hoods over their faces, Ku Klux Klan style) prove surprisingly chummy, working on tasks like chopping wood together. But the imagery is unsettling enough that one guest that night, Julia Bryan-Wilson, said she was planning to add the work to her syllabus for a course at the University of California, Irvine, on the apocalypse in contemporary art.
This video will be screened at the Park Avenue Armory as part of the off-site programming for the Whitney Biennial. The artists’ 2006 work “Can’t Swallow It, Can’t Spit It Out” will play on a loop at the Whitney Museum of American Art. And “California Video,” an exhibition opening on March 15 at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, will include two of their earlier pieces, “Let the Good Times Roll” from 2004 and “Whacker” from 2005.
Yet what promises to be an important year for the couple professionally is also a challenging one personally. After almost 10 years together, including a wedding ceremony and the birth of their son, the two separated last fall. Ms. Dodge, who was born Harriet but now goes by Harry and says she does not identify as “either male or female particularly,” has moved a few blocks away from Ms. Kahn. They said they are “co-parenting” their 3-year-old son and plan to continue collaborating artistically too.
The two first met in 1993 in San Francisco, where they were both part of a low-rent, do-it-yourself, identity-obsessed and queer-inspired performance scene. Ms. Kahn was in a solo show at 848 Community Space, when Ms. Dodge — a co-founder of a cafe-theater called the Bearded Lady — came to see her.
“She was so embodied,” Ms. Dodge said. “One of the things I love is when a performance is so authentic and/or vulnerable that it pierces the skin, the air, the things that mediate between people. It has to do with finding energy in the moment, responding to the right now, the skin of right now, in a way that creates this massive spark or electricity. That was there the first time I saw Stanya perform.”
More recently their goal has been to bring some of that electricity — the energy of live, intimate and improvised performance — into video art, offering an alternative to the slick production values of, say, a Matthew Barney. They began working together after moving to Los Angeles, by way of New York, in 2001.
Their first short, “Winner,” features Ms. Kahn as Lois, a struggling artist who has just won a cruise through a radio call-in contest and is expected to give the cameraman who has tracked her down one good sound bite about how excited she is. Only it emerges that she was actually calling in to request a song, has no intention of taking the cruise and would much rather show him and his audience her lumpy sculptures, stored in the trunk of her car.
“Winner” was shot in a day, with video and sound editing finished within a week. It established the standard division of labor between Ms. Kahn, who typically performs, and Ms. Dodge, who typically serves as the male cameraman, staying out of sight but within earshot in a way that he too becomes a character. Otherwise, the two share usually share responsibilities, from costuming and concept development to video and sound editing.
Like many of their pieces “Winner” was largely improvised. “We had this idea of a guy doing an interview with a lady who kept sculpture in her car,” Ms. Dodge said. “But it wasn’t until we drove up to the parking lot to start shooting that we figured out he was from a radio station.”
That the main character doesn’t know what’s coming next (she can’t, for example, remember the call letters of the radio station) is perceptible, creating moments of real suspense and comic resolution. (Lively editing helps.)
“I don’t mean in any way to compare our work to Andy Kaufman’s,” said Ms. Kahn. “But there’s something Kaufmanesque about this desire to empty yourself out and put anything you want in that space.”
The character of Lois returns in “Let the Good Times Roll.” This time she sits in a hotel room in the desert, telling the loopy story of a sex- and drug-fueled night that culminated in her receiving an Ecstasy enema. Glenn Phillips, a contemporary art curator at the Getty who picked it for the “California Video” survey, said it was the first piece he had seen by these artists. He has been finding ways to show it ever since.
“For starters, it’s just hilarious,” he said. “And I’m also interested in the way that humor for them is the mask for more philosophical ideas”: whether it’s an exploration of mind/body duality, the perils of social conformity, or the struggle of one individual to connect with another.
Or, as Ms. Kahn put it: “Entertainment is a way in for us. Our pieces end up not fully fitting any specific genres, but we have deep affinities to traditional entertainment, from vaudeville songs and dances to sketches, jokes, and stand-up comedy, from narrative filmmaking to live rock ‘n’ roll performances.”
Mr. Phillips has also included their video “Whacker,” which falls somewhere between punk performance and theater of the absurd, in the Getty exhibition. Seven minutes long, it features Ms. Kahn buzzing her way through an overgrown hill with an electric weed cutter. By the time she is done, if she is ever done, new weeds will surely have grown in her wake.
“It’s about the feral — the persistence of the weeds, the wild grass that insists on growing,” Ms. Dodge said.
Ms. Kahn added, “And a woman who is as tenacious as the weeds.”
The artists’ early videos made the rounds at indie film festivals before finding a home in the art world in 2006, when the New York dealer Elizabeth Dee gave them their first solo show. That was the first public screening of “Can’t Swallow It, Can’t Spit It Out,” which the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles included in its exhibition “Eden’s Edge” last year and the Whitney also tapped for the coming Biennial.
Shamim Momin, one of the Biennial’s curators, said she imagined that “Can’t Swallow” could become the “sleeper hit” of the show. “We chose it because it was their most resolved piece,” she said, “in terms of pacing, dialogue, rhythm of the dialogue.” She also said she hopes it will resonate with other pieces in the show that share “a sort of oblique or embedded politics, where the artist is responding to a sociopolitical situation without holding a protest sign.”
The artists have described “Can’t Swallow It,” made during the third year of war in Iraq, as their “portrait of civilian anxiety in a time of war.” Ms. Kahn plays a character they call the Valkyrie who wears a Viking helmet and carries a large foam wedge of Swiss cheese through a blighted Los Angeles landscape. Ms. Dodge is the videographer who follows her around, recording her paranoid imaginings, or memories.
Ms. Dodge said the concept grew out of a fascination with the uses of video today. “We always look at who is taking video, and ask ourselves why. And one function is the citizen watch, the idea that you can shoot something like the Rodney King video and change the world.” So they came up with the idea of a cameraman perched outside a hospital who wants to capture some abuse of political power and finds the Viking character instead.
The artists warned against taking the character too literally. “We haven’t resolved it,” Ms. Kahn said. “Maybe she works at a local theme park or maybe she’s homeless.” There’s also the “hazy possibility,” the artists once wrote, that she is actually a Valkyrie who ushers the spirits of slain heroes to Valhalla.
This kind of ambiguity is amplified in their new work, “All Together Now,” in which the characters’ identities are anything but clear. Formlessness competes with narrative, noise vies with music and there are those obfuscating hoods in blue and white. The blue hoods are blank. The white hoods have crude faces drawn on them with tape.
Ms. Dodge described the hoods, which they have used on occasion before, as part of a larger experiment. “What is a performance without language? Without a face?” she asked.
This direction could be risky, considering the praise critics have lavished on Ms. Kahn’s inventive storytelling in the past. “Harry and Stanya could have kept making narrative works without any lag in their career,” Mr. Phillips said. “But here they are purging themselves of almost everything that people have found interesting — language, a certain kind of expressiveness.”
It’s hard to forget that the artists’ relationship was disintegrating while the piece was being made. “Where I see sadness and darkness in the work, it’s on a personal level for me,” Ms. Kahn said.
But both said they see something hopeful in the video as well.
Ms. Kahn’s character appears to live off the land, whether running river water through a siphon or dragging a plant root through her teeth. She sees foraging as a model for their creative process for this video, which was low on budget and high on resourcefulness. (For the animal scenes they made use of local roadkill.)
And “All Together Now” does offer a particular vision of kinship in the aftermath of society. The hooded people, however voiceless and faceless, work together like families. And you see still-hoodless children — including shots of Ms. Kahn and Ms. Dodge’s son, Lenny — playing in the sand.
“Some people have said this is about a new kind of love,” Ms. Dodge said. “I hope it is about that.”

The performance power couple Stanya Kahn and Harriet Dodge come home to San Francisco with new solo work and also to present their FIRST-TIME theatrical collaboration. Stanya will perform excerpts from her recent, acclaimed solo show The Ballad of Crappy and Seapole (According to Shempco). Harriet "Harry" Dodge will perform excerpts from her wildly successful but rarely seen solo performance From Where I'm Sitting (I can only reach your ass). Together, Kahn and Dodge will perform excerpts of a new work in progress, a two-person performance piece they are co-creating, tentatively titled: Naked On the Path. The main characters are Eddie and Betty Sweaty. Eddie is tightly wound, a farmer and a lover, and a little anguished in the world at large. Betty is tall and earnest, a little slow in her speech but quick witted, sexually voracious in an understated way, and smoothing out the edges of slow-burning anxiety.

Stanya Kahn
The Ballad of Crappy and Seapole (According to Shempco)
High-strung, verbose and intensely physical, this is a multi-media tragic-comedy, a sort of fast paced Waiting for Godot performed by one person. It also stars a complete Vegas showgirl outfit not to be missed.

The Ballad of Crappy and Seapole is a show within a show about work, money, grief, anxiety, and exuberance. Shempco, a nearsighted, unemployed, insomniac loner choreographs all night long making a play about Crappy and Seapole, two visionary nobodies who alleviate distress with odd and haunting rituals. Manic and hopeful, Shempco interrupts his enthusiastic physical theater to engage Jürgen, the political philosopher, sharing florid anecdotes on everything from the marginalization of the Vegas showgirl to the death of ideology, unemployment and the marketing of Ché Guevara t-shirts. Both reckless and vigilant, Shempco’s snappy critiques and lucid chatter merge with the literary and visually rich emotional adventures of Crappy and Seapole to put a new spin on social commentary aimed at issues of consumerism, class, coping, and isolation.
Harriet Dodge
From Where I'm Sitting (I can only reach your ass)

A multi-faceted treatise on language and iconoclastic gender portraiture, From Where I'm Sitting is an investigation of cowardice, courage, faithlessness, and pretending. Through poetic and visceral monologues by multiple characters casting stark images-a sailor, a boxer, a guy in a dog suit-this is a piece that deals intrinsically with the near-psychosis of the gender dysphoric he/she.

The duo continues to develop visions of citizenship and cooperation set in wastelands where concrete and curtain- wall, car batteries and plastic jugs remain, while the lifestyle of which such things are symp- toms has collapsed. Far from marking nature/culture oppo- sitions, civilization's random leftovers - power cables, shop- ping carts, seedpods, roadkill, pee - have been leveled into a new economy.

Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn


For their second New York show, Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn exhibited four videos, three dated 2008. This year`s Whitney Biennial saw them widely praised as well, making for an annus pretty mirabilis. Industriousness is apparently their M. O. In key ways, it`s also their subject. The duo continues to develop visions of citizenship and cooperation set in wastelands where concrete and curtain- wall, car batteries and plastic jugs remain, while the lifestyle of which such things are symp- toms has collapsed. Far from marking nature/culture oppo- sitions, civilization`s random leftovers - power cables, shop- ping carts, seedpods, roadkill, pee - have been leveled into a new economy. Everything from bathing ro warching television now transpires as communal labor. Thus the four works on view, while discrete, unfold as discontinuous linked narratives.
The centerpiece was All Together Now, 2008, shot in LA`s swank Standard Hotel and along the sunstruck ditch that imprisons the Los Angeles River, with interludes in an underground laboratory and at the beach. Through these locations move three groups - teams, subspecies, or improvised families - each of which finds parallels in the other videos.
The lab in All Together Now is staffed by blue-hooded mutants. Busily they break down yard-sale furniture, monitor surveillance data, and operate whar might be a water distillery. Faceless and speechless, they seem peaceable and organized, unlike the orangegarbed drones in Masters of None, 2006. The latter clan clings to domesticity. They live in a bungalow, and their hoods sport crude facial features drawn with Magic Marker. They play charades and gobble popcorn. Bur their rapport is problematic, and when they can`t decipher one`s charade (the frustrated mime is played by Kahn with the mantic-sexy desperation that is her specialty), she drops dead. They compost her.
Back in All Together Now, a cherubic toddler and a prepubescent girl silently build sand castles. Their quasi-counterparts appear, in Nature Demo, 2008, as Dodge and Kahn basically playing themselves (a departure for Dodge, who is usually filming); they, too, explore the riverbed, debating how to pitch camp. Like the children - except in possession of language, and therefore prone to bickering - they seem to be homeless but are dealing with it. Meanwhile the Standard Hotel squatters look out the window at desolate downtown, hot-wire appliances, and venture out to harvest weeds. One is a sylphlike boy. The others (Kahn with poets Eileen Myles and Amy Gerstler) are grossly sunburned, gnomish androgynes. They, too, work harmoniously and do not talk - whereas Lois, in 7 See You Man, 2008, does nothing but. She reprises Kahn`s signature character, a circuits-fried free spirit who converses expansively, combatively, with an unseen cameraman (Dodge). She, too, is at the beach. "I think you`re really strong, man!" she yells at Dodge-slash-us, her interlocutors. "I`m voting for you, man!" Through the chilly fog, she urges that "it`s possible to actually purge yourself of crappy . . . electricity can pass through you . . . you gain psychic powers."
All this might be happening after apocalypse, certainly after empire. Maybe these neoferal foragers and metatribal urchins live so far offgrid that they populate a parallel reality. Dodge and Kahn explore what that family and culture might look like posthistory, postcommunication, postperformance, postgender, postself, postother. On the evidence of their characters, however, "post" in this sense doesn`t mean that gender, self, ere. have disappeared - rather that they`ve morphed beyond recognition. The antidote to general implosion is game-over innocence. Civilization reboots on different terms.- Frances Richard

Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn

The story of Let the Good Times Roll (2004) is quickly told: Lois meets Dave in the desert, where they wait together for a bus that is supposed to bring them to a music festival. But the bus doesn’t come. Eventually they give up and end up in a motel together. There, Lois tells a few stories, which Dave—as he has already done during their earlier wait in the desert—records on video. Regardless of the fact that Lois is a pretty funny person and a vivid storyteller, nothing else happens.
However, with the genre character of the “storyteller,” the film obtains a rather com­plex structure that juggles three different tenses, almost like in the 1001 Nights. We watch what Lois has experienced as she speaks. Thus, events in her distant past are recounted in the present tense of the film which, however, turns into a kind of past because it is documented on video, a past to which Lois and we ourselves can return as often as we want in the present. This construct leaves only Lois as guarantor for the truth of the content of her story.
Then there is the figure of Dave, who filmed Lois. Except that “Lois” is Stanya and “Dave” is Harry. Both protagonists are artists who are not exposing, recording, or even altering their own experiences, but rather staging invented events of fic- ­tional people.
Of course, this type of performance relies on the “fourth wall” by simply staging an event as if it is supposed to be real. Yet it is specifically in the paradox of its supposedly natural flow that the story’s potential lies. The account maintains a belief in the reality of the fiction despite a tacit agreement between the storyteller and the recipient that the story is not real. In this way, the content acquires a special dimension that makes a statement about more than just that one night in the motel.It is almost as if the two artists were creating alter egos or characters through which they can express indirectly that which cannot be expressed directly. Serving this purpose is Lois, a light-headed, stereotypical hippy from California who values ­music, parties, drugs, and sex above all else. We learn little else of the rest of her life. She has missed a concert, but she is certain that it all makes sense on some ­level; there has to be a reason why the useless waiting brought these two people ­together. There also has to be deeper meaning in the sexual excesses which she ­observes and in which she herself participates. Lois’s experiental realm is reduced to seeking adrenaline kicks and, to a much lesser degree, an underlying yearning for a structuring force that would give meaning to her life. For her, sharing extreme experiences at least suggests closeness. For example, in one of these scenes, she watches as a man shoves an oversized, black, shiny dildo into another man’s anus while she’s at a raging party. This experience provides her with a rather misplaced, quasi-religious revelation urging her to “Submerge the impenetrable!” In the throes of her epiphany, she proceeds to penetrate the French host Nanette, delving with both of her fists into Nanette’s two holes. She delights at the feeling of being, metaphorically, “like a ball in a socket.” Her very physical metaphors culminate in fantasies of merging when she sees how her hands have been swallowed by Nanette’s body. She feels, as she says, “wired into this natural power source.”
Her cliché hippy statements, like “I felt full of love and gratitude” or “People [could] be all together, side by side, we’re all here, we’re all together!” constrast sharply with her desolate and continually worsening condition in the desert, waiting for a bus that is not coming. Hail Godot! In accordance, we are offered the symbol of the desert as a place of no return, emptiness, and the end. Lois is thus confronted with the “real,” with contingent experience, but she offers staunch resistance. It is for this reason that Dave and Lois must be staged, must be reenacted by people like Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn. Lois is not reframed with ironic distance—Stanya knows what she is talking about. However, by letting Lois talk, she takes the tiny step of dissociation that changes everything, a step of which Lois herself is already aware.

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